Q&A with Rich Happel

By | 03/24/2015

Meet Rich Happel, general manager of the service group at University Mechanical Contractors, Inc. We asked Rich about his experience with MSCA and learned how his first MSCA conference led to impactful networking, knowledge sharing and client procurement.

Q: What is your industry experience?

A: The makeup that has allowed me to be successful began when I was in the Navy from 1978 to 1982. I was working with air conditioning and refrigeration. When I transitioned to the civilian side, I was able to take everything I learned in the Navy and have it serve as the foundation to my career. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the quality of the training and experiences was unparalleled. I have worked for a few companies in my time, starting as a technician in the field as a green horn, to service sales and finally to service sales management. 


Q: How did you get involved with MSCA?

A: When I first joined University Mechanical, I was offered the opportunity to go to the conference. I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t know if I will get something worthy of the expenditure.” As I met more people at University Mechanical, they encouraged me to become more involved with MSCA. So, the next year I signed myself up, and I was blown away by the quality of the event. 


Q: What MSCA tools or resources have you found helpful to your business?

A: Hands down, the networking has been the most helpful. I met a guy at the conference my first year, Steve Horwood, and each year we swap notes back and forth at the conference. The ability to meet people in different parts of the country and be welcomed into their facilities to learn about specific products is great. The ability to share knowledge and lessons is helpful in moving the industry forward.


Q: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced?

A: I had very little personal experience in the facilities maintenance and operations product approach, documentation and contracts. I met Steve at the MSCA conference, and he knew all about it. I asked Steve if I could go up to his facility, and he opened his office to me, let me spend two full days with full access to their operators and ask as many questions as I had. I spent a full day with management to talk about how they qualify a lead, develop a proposal and compete in the marketplace. Steve and his team gave me 30 years of knowledge that I took back to my office, and I was able to secure the GSA project with the Federal Center South Building .


Q: Where’s the industry going?

A: The industry is becoming more analytics-, diagnostics- and fault detection-based. There’s more hardcore monitoring of data through control systems. The mechanical service companies who are able to embrace analytics and provide the manpower to provide the repairs are the one-two punch.


Q: How do you grow an excellent team?

A: Pay attention to your field. Don’t rely on email and your phone. Face-to-face interaction is critical. Our business is about relationship building. You also need to make sure you have the right butts in the bus. From a hiring standpoint, we use Caliper as a pre-screening tool.


Q: How do you retain talent?

A: Pay fairly—take care of your employees. We had a gentleman who was on-call Thanksgiving Day and was dispatched to an emergency at 10 a.m. He didn’t return home until 7 p.m. and missed all of Thanksgiving with his wife and children. I picked up the phone and called him. I said, “Thank you. I know what you did, and I know what you went through by missing Thanksgiving with your kids and family. I’d like to give you a $200 gift certificate for you and your wife to have a nice dinner on University Mechanical.” You know it has nothing to do with the money, it’s the thought. Our employees are people, not machines.


Q: What’s one fun fact about yourself?

A: I went to my first Oktoberfest and couldn’t believe what I saw. I’ve never seen that many people in one location in my entire life! 7.1 million people showed up, and every single person was having a good time!


Q: What’s one piece of advice you have for other contractors?

A: It is a wonderful time to be in the mechanical service business. The technology is mind-blowingly fast, more reliable and cost-effective than ever. One of the proudest moments I have ever had was when I received my LEED in 2007. Ever since having that and learning what LEED was about and what it stood for, it has changed my approach in a positive way. 


The GreenSTAR program was established in 2007 by the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA), the nation’s leading trade association for HVACR contractors, providing education, marketing and labor/management services to assure its members deliver quality performance, value and expertise for all building system needs.